How Being an Expatriate Can Improve Your Culinary Skills

I miss peanut butter. This is the most common food question for many Americans who come to Spain: Where can I get my hands on some good old American-style peanut butter? Luckily, if you’re in Madrid, the answer is easy. Actually, most towns that have a Carrefour or Mercadona will have peanut butter. (Now whether it’s any good is up to you to decide.)

But there are many other foods we crave. As good as Spanish food is, I know I have a list of things I like to eat when I get home. I crave spice, Ranch dressing, cottage cheese, and mainly anything from Trader Joe’s. (Someone please bring a bottle of their Champagne Pear salad dressing, stat. Oh—and some trail mix.)

So how have all these cravings made me a better cook? Easy—necessity is the mother of invention. Or so they say.

What can the American expat make in Spain instead of traipsing from Taste of America to Al Campo to El Corte Inglés?

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11 Things I Would Never Buy and 8 Things I Would at Taste of America

Whenever I’m asked about my hobbies, I always say cooking (and reading). I love trying new recipes, cuisines, and tastes. Luckily for me, I have a husband who’s willing to try almost anything (except spicy—he’s not into that). There’s nothing better than mastering a dish, especially when your husband’s from another country and you have finally gotten your tortilla de patatas just right.

The problem about cooking (and eating!) in another country is that sometimes you can’t find what you want. There are certain ingredients that aren’t sold here, at least in your neighborhood supermarket. When I was living in smaller towns—Toledo (2008), Salamanca (2009–2010), or Zamora (2011, 2012)—I noticed this a lot.

I understand the desire for a store that’s just like back home. You know, Trader Joe’s would be nice sometimes. But sometimes I see the products advertised at Taste of America, and I have to admit I would never buy some of those things. Some I would, though. But which ones?

Things I Would Never Buy

Peanut butter in the jar

  1. Peanut butter. Okay, if you don’t have a food processor, I would buy this. However, I do have my nice little food processor, and making your own nut butter couldn’t be easier. The only downside is the clean up.
  2. Mixes. Make your own cake or brownies. Way cheaper, and healthier (not so many chemicals!).
  3. Frosting. Likewise, it’s way too easy to make your own frosting. I have my favorite frosting recipe, and it is amazing! You don’t have to use powdered sugar! Popcorn popped on a white background
  4. Popcorn. There is popcorn here; enough said.
  5. Vegetable dip mix. This is easy enough to do it yourself. I like this recipe, with Greek yogurt and a bunch of spices you already have in your cabinet.
  6. Baking soda and corn starch. Why buy these when they already exist over here, and for a much cheaper price? Look for bicarbonato (baking soda) and maizena (corn starch).
  7. Strawberry syrup. Because no. Because it’s gross? Because I once vomited after eating this.
  8. Guacamole mix. Guys, making great guacamole is not difficult. The only semi-difficult part might be finding cilantro, but I’ve seen it in nearby fruterías, so don’t despair. Pop-Tarts
  9. Pop Tarts. Who knew that one could actually purchase this for the low, low price of €5.60 ($7.28)? These breakfast delicacies bring me back to my middle-school days, when they were my dad’s daily breakfast.
  10. Marshmallows. I don’t have anything against them, and I get why you’d want to buy them, but marshmallows just aren’t my thing.
  11. Yeast. Yes, thank you I would like to pay 10x more yeast!

Things I Would Totally Buy

Pretzels

  1. Pretzels. Yeah, I’ve seen them here, but—to be frank—they suck. I would love to get my hands on some of these pretzels, most notably the Snyder’s Sourdough Hard Pretzels, although the nearly €4 ($5.20) price tag kind of puts me off.
  2. Cheez-Its. These sorts of tasty, cheesy crackers can’t really be found here. The cracker culture is really lacking. I have actually made my own before, and it’s not that difficult, just time consuming, but I think I’d rather do it myself than pay €6.35 for one box!
  3. Maple syrup. Worth it. I do think there are some specialty Spanish shops that will sell it, but the good stuff (a.k.a. not Aunt Jemima’s) is worth forking over some hard-earned cash.
  4. Some cereals. I am a little bit ashamed to admit that I saw this box of Cap’n Crunch and suddenly had the urge to grab a huge bowl of it. Peanut butter, regular … come back to me! Sriracha
  5. Sriracha. I would buy this amazing sauce. Mario might not touch it, but this sauce is so versatile. You can use it on shrimp, in a Bloody Mary, cornbread muffins, on popcorn, in dips … the list goes on and on. But I don’t see this listed at Taste of America. Too bad!
  6. Blow pops. I have this weird love for all things lollipop. Yeah, I’d buy ’em!
  7. Reese’s. There’s nothing like the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. Although I do make my own desserts that combine the two, Reese’s satisfies a childhood craving. Ranch Dressing
  8. Ranch dressing. Ranch dressing is a gift given to man; we must not waste it.

Which products would you buy?